Imagine this for a moral lesson: A lucky group of teenage boys are given a new form of artificial intelligence, designed to help them suck less. How do you tie a tie? How do you shave? How do you speak to girls? The young men need merely open an app on their iPhones and intone their questions; moments later, a precocious robot responds in its mechanic cadence with a personalized answer.
Better yet, this AI is freakishly empathetic, and its raison d’etre is to coddle today’s youth through life’s deepest quagmires. How do you ask someone out? How do you show confidence? What makes somebody a real friend? How do you know when you love someone?
Don’t worry about these pesky, 20th century worries – There’s an app for that!
The truth, of course, is messy. We humans pride ourselves on problem-solving. Even more salient, we revere our elders: those who’ve seen it all before, on whom we rely for guidance through life’s many stages. But in today’s climate – a historical moment in which algorithms reign supreme – these boys all-too predictably rejoice over their new technological mentor – finally, someone who gets them. And we, the wise spectators, despair over society’s degradation. We, who once lived without internet, scoff over the ethically moribund core of young people, who can’t seem to appreciate the difference between humans and robots.
“Why can’t data-analytics help us grow up? Who are you to say that technology isn’t a social panacea?” The Gen-Zers seem to hurl these questions with reckless pride, as if daring us to second-guess the world we’ve handed them.
But then, in a stunning twist of events, we learn this newest AI is not as it seems: rather, the boys’ fathers were listening to their sons’ questions and answering through a microphone that modifies their voices into robotic form and transmits via the boys’ smart phones. Artificial intelligence’s precocious wisdom, as it turns out, is nothing but good-old-fashioned fatherly advice. Under this realization’s dizzying penumbra, we watch (with tearful eyes) the stalwart fathers step through a hidden door and embrace their bewildered sons who, fuzzily aware of the prevailing moral dynamic (and fully conscious of being on-camera), hug back with equal vigor, for a great divide has been bridged. At long last, patriarchal wisdom has trumped modern alienation. The world is good once more.
Now, imagine you were forced to watch this scene – not for your edification, not for your entertainment, not even to improve your filial situation – but because market research indicates these images will incline you to pay an extra 77% for razor blades. Imagine, an opaque group of MBAs meticulously constructing this scenario for the single-minded purpose of making themselves richer at your expense:
You know what, Gillette? No. Okay? Just… just no.
Starting with the obvious, your product is not special – this isn’t an iPod-versus-Zune sort of decision. I can buy perfectly functional razor blades from Harry’s – delivered to my office desk, no less – for about 77% less than “Fusion Proglide” blades with Gillette’s “FlexBall technology.”
On a more personal note, I feel insulted that your marketing department has targeted my online profile. How irrational a consumer – how stupid a human being – do I appear? Does my internet history show that I’m the type of person to walk across town for an $18 burrito when I can have the same burrito for $10 downstairs? Apparently. And perhaps that’s a ‘me problem’.
But you know what else, Gillette? I’m unimpressed with your FlexBall ‘technology’. In fact, I can’t possibly emphasize just how unimpressive your FlexBall ‘technology’ appears. We live in the era of Elon Musk, yet I’m supposed to fawn over plastic that swivels? Of course, the great irony of your “Go Ask Dad” campaign is how your hastily concocted sentiments of technological over-saturation are supposed to goad us into buying your super-amazing trademarked shaving technology. Nice try.
(And while I’m at it, let me also say: I’m unimpressed that your FlexBall ‘technology’ is trademarked. Should I also ooh and ahh over the 170,000 trademark registrations in 2017? And even if I admit that FlexBall ‘technology’ makes for an easier shave, should I be paying extra simply to avoid jutting out my chin and stretching my neck while shaving? Am I that lazy, stupid, and vain?)
Also – you know what, Gillette? I’m not a fan of your primogeniture tropes; how you link the pathos of Father’s Day to a mass-produced consumer product; how you ruthlessly conjure an image of disaffected youth, like a Lost Generation of the modern era, only instead of trench warfare and mustard gas it’s Instagram and Candy Crush.
But what’s truly hilarious, Gillette, about your sociological diagnosis, is the pseudo-science you so happily and unashamedly employ. If you haven’t yet watched the above commercial, here’s some context: It begins with a factoid that’s been manufactured to startle: “84% of guys say their main source for information is their phones, while only 13% turn to their dads.” Okay then. If I take these words at face-value, I should assume the data was extracted from a survey question along the lines of: “What’s your main source for information?” rather than the statistic’s implication, whose apocalyptic shadow would have us assume that 84% of young men said yes to the inquiry: “I bet you’d rather stare at your phone all day then talk to your piece-of-shit Dad, ain’t that right?”
Above all, you know what, Gillette? You know what sickens me more than anything? It’s that you’re 100% right. Yes, technology is a problem for human relationships. Yes, kids are addicted to smartphones. Yes, artificial intelligence threatens longstanding social mores (for better or worse… still TBD?). Yes, there is intrinsic value in the wisdom of parents and elders. Yes, yes, yes.
But no matter how correct your rationale, I say no to paying almost double for razor blades. I say no to being manipulated by corporate sentimentality. I say no to a Father’s Day with any association to purchasing a product that removes hair from my body. I say no to a gendered telemarketing universe in which ‘male’ razors and ‘female’ razors necessitate their own marketing schema to make us feel bad about ourselves and gouge our wallets until we’re hairy homeless people without any money to shave.
You know what else, Gillette? Happy Father’s Day.